‘I’ll Show You’ Excerpt: Derrick Rose on systemic racism, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt

K.C. Johnson
NBC Sports Chicago

It's sad that Derrick Rose proved painfully prescient when he wore an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt during warmups of a December 2014 Bulls game to honor the life of Eric Garner.

Just like George Floyd, Garner, a black man, spoke those words when a white police officer placed him in a chokehold in New York. Garner later died in part from neck compressions.

Rose had donated $1 million to After School Matters, a Chicago-based, non-profit organization, that September. Though he never sought attention for his stances on societal issues, Rose's move led to other NBA players, including LeBron James, following suit.

"I'm just happy that people paid attention to it," Rose said the next day after Bulls practice. "I think it touched a lot of people because I grew up in an impoverished area like that. And sometimes (police brutality) happens.

"Usually I stay out of politics and police brutality. I'm not saying all cops are bad or anything. I'm just saying that what happened them days was uncalled for and I think it hurt a lot of people. It hurt the nation."

Rose used plural on "days" because of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man who was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., months before Garner's death. In both instances, grand jury decisions levied no discipline for the police officers, setting off national protests.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was shown on video kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he died, faces second-degree murder charges.

Rose had no personal experience with police brutality while growing up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. But the crime and gangs and drugs that presented pitfalls were obstacles he had to overcome to make the NBA.

"I saw it every day," Rose said in December 2014. "Not killing or anything, but I saw the violence every day and just seeing what can happen. If anything, I'm just trying to change the thoughts of the kids' minds across the nation. I know what they're thinking right now. I was one of them kids.

"When you live in an area like that and you don't got any hope and police are treating you any way - I'm not saying all police are treating kids bad - but it gives you another reason to be bad. My biggest concern is the kids and making sure my son grows up in a safe environment."

It's sad for Rose, his son and society that the same issues of systemic racism and police brutality continue to plague the country, leading to more national protests that have in some cases spanned the globe. That Floyd used the same words as Garner makes the lack of progress even more galling.

Rose seemed to know as much when he released his autobiography "I'll Show You" in 2019. Read this excerpt:

* * *

Everyone likes to act like we're progressing in America, we're great. How can that be great? How can you be great when you can't confront your truth? The truth is you mistreat people. The truth is you tell people if you work hard and get a diploma you're gonna be gifted this opportunity of a lifetime, but a lot of people don't get the opportunity no matter what. They don't get the chance to even put a foot in that door.

People don't understand that living where I lived, there are a bunch of traps that you can get caught up in. This place traps a lot of people. People are locked up-more people are locked up than in slavery.

You look at the schools. Where do they close the schools? All over the South Side. And then they give money to help private schools for people who already have money. Look at the books we have, the labs, the prep for exams. It's not like other places in Chicago. And then they say people don't want to work, they just want free money. F**k that. My mom worked two, three jobs, worked all the time. I'd ditch school sometimes, because she'd leave before me. But she was always calling to make sure I went. She'd get home after basketball practice, working all kinds of jobs, secretary, everything you could think of, but there still wasn't enough money because of how little these jobs paid. But she was always trying to work.

Look at all the stuff the Daleys did when they ran Chicago. You think there's no reason why the Dan Ryan Expressway was built where it was? They cut off the South Side neighborhoods to protect the Bridgeport area and the Daleys. The police were all over there protecting those streets in Bridgeport. Then the buildings come up-public housing, they called it-and it was like prison, high-rise buildings for people to live in like jails.

Don't tell me about Chicago and it's gangs with all the drugs. What was Chicago known for? Al Capone and Italian gangsters, right? Shooting up everything, what all the movies were about. You read about that 1893 World's Fair? All those women going missing. Nobody talks about that and they try to act like Chicago got crazy all of a sudden. They try to act like it's just blacks acting crazy. They try to act like it's these crazy negroes. Hey, Mayor Daley's family was doing the bootlegging. They had gangs back in the day going to neighborhoods beating up black guys. We're the problem?

It is a crisis now, but don't try to act like this suddenly just got here. Even in Chicago, how much opportunity do you have if you are African American? Chicago is low-key segregated. Here's what I mean. You can have money in Chicago, but then try to get a building or get property in certain places if you're African American. I've been turned down trying to buy property downtown. I tried to get a shop for my girl at the time to have a salon near Michigan Avenue. They turned me away. You know, I've got capital. They thought it was gonna be an "urban" crowd. You know what I mean? Coming down to their Michigan Avenue. 

So not only are there not so many shops and companies in our neighborhood, and so not enough jobs, but then when you try to open something, they tell you no. And when they tell you no, somehow it's our fault?  How are we supposed to grow as a community? So people end up selling drugs. Nothing big, my brothers did that. It's just for the family to live. This is no drug gang. 

And how come with our drugs, we go to jail? Isn't alcohol a drug? Tobacco? But too many white businesses make money on that, so that's okay. So you think more people are getting killed driving with drugs or driving drunk? But it's the African American community that's the problem? That's why I wore the "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt after Eric Garner was killed in New York.

I know these kids and I know they really want to change. They want to have a chance at the same things everyone else does. That's why I try to keep asking if there really is enough opportunity where I'm from. Because I have money there and I'm still having a hard time finding someone who's gonna help my people prosper. It seems like we're in a system where you get cut off every angle that you go.

* * *


This excerpt of I'll Show You, by Derrick Rose and Sam Smith, is presented with permission from Triumph Books. For more information or to order a copy please visit Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Triumph Books.

NBC Sports Chicago will honor the Bulls great with "Derrick Rose Week presented by Saint Xavier University" starting up Monday, June 8 at 7:00 PM CT with the first of five-straight nights of "Classic" game performances. See full schedule here.

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Ill Show You Excerpt: Derrick Rose on systemic racism, I Cant Breathe shirt originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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